An Olympic Story That Must Be Told

By Wendell P. Simpson
Updated: July 24, 2008

2008 Olympics BeijingORLANDO– The 2008 Beijing Olympics is going to serve as China’s coming out party, and the whole world is showing up for the festivities.

We should have boycotted, but we didn’t. Why? Well, as any good reporter knows, if you want to get to the meat of a story, follow the money.

China was once a pariah nation, vilified for its communist ideology, and castigated for its horrendous record of human rights abuses. It continues to be one of the most repressive societies on Earth, according to human rights groups, cracking down ever more stringently on domestic dissent while solidifying its occupation of neighboring Tibet.

The difference is, today the so-called last bastion of the Great Proletariat Revolution has joined the ranks of Western counter-revolutionary imperialists, becoming, along with India, the fastest growing economy in the world. It’s got a lot of money to lend — lots and lots of money — and everybody wants to be its friend.

The silence of the West, whose eternal argument that capitalism and democracy are somehow synonymous is now dead, has been bought and paid for.

In the background, there are a billion or so human stories that reside in the shadows of these cold economic and political priorities, stories of sacrifice and courage. We won’t hear about them in the media — mainly because there’s no ratings or profit in chronicling the human cost of injustice.

But this is one of them, and while it will resonate with and for millions of others for whom the notion of progress, freedom and full enfranchisement is still an unfulfilled promise, it nonetheless manages to resound with hope and possibility.

Its bittersweet ironies are not lost on me; nor are its contradictions…

The scent of pine and honeysuckle wafts throughout the breezy July 4th evening in Nashville as the DJ rocks some breezy reggae. The entire party, mostly white, mostly liberal, bob their heads in time to the percolating rhythms: it’s a cool antidote to the bucolic, buckle-on-the-Bible-Belt fundamentalism that permeates this Smoky Mountain burg.

Above our heads, fireworks jet into the night sky and explode in crazy, frenzied, patriotic fervor.

“…And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night — that our flag was still there…”

I couldn’t help it: The anthem I learned as a child by rote played on a mad loop inside my head.

“…Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave — over the land of the free and the home of the brave…”

Ngawang Losel, perhaps the bravest man I’ve ever met, sits directly in front of me, cross-legged and tranquil in the dewy grass in that mysterious ‘yoga’ way we boorish Westerners ascribe to the spiritually inclined people of Tibet.

I notice, as I am wont to do through the prism of my Black sensitivity, that he and I are two of only three people of color here. But Losel is oblivious to all of my American baggage.

Instead, he casts his gaze upward toward the bursting fireworks, but I think his twinkling eyes are aimed somewhere way beyond this world.

I think he looks into the face of God.

“As much as I miss my home in Tibet,” Losel says, longingly, “it is so good to be in America where one can express his thoughts and ideas without fear, and where the notion of democracy is more than mere rhetoric.”

It is hard not to be caught up in his moment, such is Losel’s charm and charisma — but then there is a great disturbance in my African American context…

‘He’s so genuine and sincere,’ I say to myself, ‘but so naïve and innocent.’ Hey, it’s easy to get shit twisted: here we are at this gathering of the privileged celebrating the America’s independence, everything seems so pat and lovely and neat — but I think I know things about our country he doesn’t: when it comes to race and especially money, America has a history of hedging badly on its sublime democratic ideals.

Here, nothing gets in the way of the money. Not love, not humanity, not ethics, not even conscience.

I know that context frames perception and as I think of Losel’s incredible journey I am moved by his sanguinity and heart, but I know that his beloved Tibet is a sacrifice upon the alter of the almighty international money machinery, and no one is going to hold China to account as long as the money flows….

Tibet sits at the top of the world nestled among the Himalayas. It is an ancient culture that has immersed itself in its spiritual pursuits, living by its Buddhist principles. And while China has long disputed its borders, Tibet had managed for centuries to remain isolated and pure, uncontaminated by the prurient conceits of the rest of the world.

60 years ago, the army of the People’s Republic of China, under the pretext of the fictional ’17-Point Agreement For The Liberation of Tibet’, goose-stepped into Tibet and never left.

The Chinese occupation, by all accounts, has been brutal and oppressive, enforcing its mandate through violence and intimidation, and all but obliterating the indigenous Tibetan ethos.

“In Tibet, our culture is one of the pursuit of knowledge and spirituality,” says Losel. “We have a long monastic tradition, and part of the cultural expression has been the recitation of sacred and ancient texts. There are innumerable amounts of these writings, and many people would spend days long in prayer and memorization of those texts.

“Under the Chinese occupation, those recitations have been forbidden and the tradition is being lost among the younger generations.

“Our native language is dying everywhere except in the rural provinces where the Chinese dictates are harder to enforce,” he continues. “We are fed a steady diet of Maoist propaganda, and in the schools, the teaching of Chinese history is mandatory, while the teaching of our own history is forbidden. Any resistance to the ideology is met with severe punitive measures. Often, that means imprisonment or even death…”

He begins to sing in lilting Chinese one of the communist anthems that were part and parcel of his youthful indoctrination. ” I still remember them all,’ he says.

For years, the 14th Dalai Lama has led a non-violent resistance movement against the occupation in the hope that the international community would pressure the Chinese government into withdrawing. As a result of his activities, the Dalai Lama has effectively been imprisoned in his home by Chinese authorities.

Losel says only the Dalai Lama’s celebrity has spared him more rigorous consequences.

“He (the Dalai Lama) has followed the road traveled by Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi, advocating for peaceful defiance to the occupation. His hope has always been that our struggle would provoke the international community to put pressure on the Chinese government to retreat.”

So far, the international response has been tepid at best…

Excerpted from a report appearing in the New Zealand Herald-

Dateline, New York, March 18 2008

“American athletes will definitely compete at the Beijing Olympics despite recent violence in Tibet and calls for the boycott, The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) said on Monday.

“‘There is absolutely no consideration being given to the idea of forgoing the Olympic Games’, USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. ‘There is widespread understanding and recognition that boycotts accomplish nothing other than unfairly penalizing athletes…it’s important to keep in mind what the Olympic movement stands for…’”

From a report appearing on the Human Rights Watch website-

Dateline, Geneva, Switzerland, April 2008

Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its refusal to speak on China’s internal and external human rights abuses, in violation of its own edict for ‘fostering respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.’

On it’s website, Human Rights Watch specifically cited the jailing of two Chinese activists who criticized the Beijing Olympics, and China’s wholesale persecution of ethnic Tibetans as examples of China’s horrific rights abuses record.

“The question (is)…whether the Olympic movement respects human rights,” said Sophie Richardson, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch. “If it does, remaining silent as China’s crackdown intensifies isn’t acceptable.

“The IOC seems determined to take the Chinese government’s line — that human rights are a political matter and shouldn’t be discussed.”

The IOC’s response? It allowed the Olympic torch relay to go through Tibet as scheduled.

At 13 years old, the age at which, in many cultures, male children become men, Losel decided to escape from his homeland.

“There was nothing else to do,” says Losel. “My father had passed and I began to realize there was no future for me in Tibet.”

Under the cover of darkness, and with the help of his two brothers who had fled the country years before, Losel left his family home in Lhasa and began the arduous trek across the Himalayas, through Nepal (also occupied by the Chinese), to the Tibetan refugee community in New Delhi, India.

“The leaving was very difficult, ” says Losel. “Whenever a Tibetan leaves his home, there is a ritual for the departing person that involves much crying and emoting among the family,” says Losel, “but we weren’t able to so because it would have alerted the Chinese authorities — and that would have had dire consequences.”

Aided by the Tibetan version of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses and guides, it took two harrowing months for the young man to traverse the roughly 850 miles between Lhasa and New Delhi. His journey took him through hazardous mountain passes and the frigid cold of the Himalayas, into remote villages and past Chinese patrols assigned specifically to catch escapees.

“In one village in Nepal where the Chinese patrols frequented,” Losel remembers, “I had to pretend to be a sheppard tending a flock of mountain goat. The villagers dressed me in their garb and painted my face dark to match the color of the mountain people.

“I was painted darker than you,” he says, smiling at me.

I want to tell him, ‘Darker than me? Believe me, brother, shade, timber, tone, hue, Black, yellow, brown, red, purple, whatever — it don’t mean nothin’ when it comes to the issues of people of color…’

Excerpted from a report appearing on the Voice Of America website-

Dateline: Washington, D.C., April 12, 2007

Byline-Darren Taylor

“‘In November last years, President Bush’s special envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, said that if by January 1 the Sudanese government had not stopped the killing of innocent civilians and accepted the deployment of a hybrid United Nations-African Union force, then the U.S. would implement Plan B—a package of economic sanctions against Sudan approved by President Bush…’

‘…Yet despite the deadline for the imposition of (the plan) having long passed, the U.S. has failed to implement it…’”

Excerpted from 100 Days Of Slaughter: A Chronology Of U.S./U.N. Action, a ‘FRONTLINE’ report.

(The following is a transcript from two State Department press conferences regarding the slaughter occurring in Rwanda during the Clinton administration)

Dateline: Washington, D.C., May 25, 1994

Mike McCurry, State Department spokesman, is asked at a press briefing, “… Has the administration yet come to any decision on whether it (the Rwandan crisis) can be described as genocide?”

He answers, “I’ll have to confess, I don’t know the answer to that. I know that the issue was under very active consideration. I think there was a strong disposition within the department here to view what has happened there; certainly, constituting acts of genocide that have occurred…”

Dateline: Washington, D.C., June 10, 1994

At a State Department briefing, spokesperson Christine Shelley is asked (by a reporter), “How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?”

Shelley’s reply?

“That’s just not a question that I’m in a position to answer.”

Excerpted from ‘Castro Offers Free Med School Education To U.S. Minorities’

Appearing in ‘The Tube’, a column published by the Central Florida Advocate-

Dateline, Orlando, FL, June 2001

Byline-Wendell P. Simpson

“‘…(S)o while anti-Castro groups decry Fidel’s gesture as a mere propaganda ploy…nobody wants to look at the shrinking number of Black and Hispanic med school grads in the aftermath of Bakke v. University of California…and how that decision links to our own sorry record of human rights abuses…which, according to an Oct. 1998 report by Amnesty International, include: exploitative labor and business practices at home and abroad; racist prosecution of criminal justice, particularly its capricious application of the death penalty; rampant police brutality; racial profiling; the use and approval of torture; and the exportation of weapons to regimes that are, by all internationally recognized standards, clearly repressive…

‘If you add the disenfranchisement of African American voters in Florida during the rigged 2000 Presidential election (even Haiti mocked the process), the fact that we jail more people than any country in the world—including China, for God sake—and the sorry state of health care in America, well, we certain don’t look like a paragon of democratic ideals…

‘Is it any wonder the United States got kicked off the U.N. Human Rights Commission this past May? Castro’s offer looks like a C.A.R.E. package for the last citizens of the First World… ‘”

Losel remained in New Delhi long enough to receive the equivalent of a high school education.

By that time he had come under the notice of a Jewish academic who recognized his great talent and arranged for him to complete his studies under a student exchange program in Israel.

And once again, the young adult who by then had begun to understand the full meaning of his ‘refugee’ status was forced to emigrate once again.

“I was a man without a country, without a home,” Losel says.

But he was undaunted. Losel worked hard as a student, although he confesses to bouts of surrender to his material urges.

“I got high a lot at school,” he laughs, “and of course, there were the girls…”

It was in Israel that he met the beautiful young American Jew who was to become the love of his life and change it irrevocably.

“I had found my soul mate,” he says, “and it the most beautiful thing I had ever known.”

The two got married and moved to the environs of Nashville where he runs a modest landscape design business and she works in international relations.

“When I arrived in America,” he says now, in retrospect, “it was the first time in my life I felt that I was truly free…”

Free? My father used to say, ‘Nothing’s free. Everything costs. Everything…’

Remember I mentioned the cold numbers? Here are the numbers of U.S. debt to China since 2002, the year America went to war (figures compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Statistics website):

Exports to China – $277,864.6 billion

Imports from China – 2,583,309.2 trillion

Our trade deficit? $1,175,444.5 trillion

China holds almost half of U.S. foreign debt (47%), and $1 trillion in denominated assets of which $300 million are U.S. Treasury notes (from

The Asia Times newspaper described the deficit as ‘perilous…posing significant risk to the rest of the world.

“On the American trade deficit,’ the report continued, “the IMF also warned ominously…that ‘The United States is on course to increase its net external liabilities to around 40 percent of its GDP within the next few years – an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country.’

‘ So China is financing Bush’s bold economic experiment: running two or more wars simultaneously with a huge budget and trade deficit, and equally huge tax handouts for the richest Americans.’”

In short, we’re China’s bitch.

Losel is not buying into my cynical extrapolations or my cascading, crashing flood of empirical data and pragmatic truths. He has no use for them. His world is full of possibilities. He has survived the worst and his faith is undiminished. He remains, in the face of it all, pure of heart and hope.

“I believe there is the possibility that the world can be changed through spiritual and intellectual understanding,” he says earnestly. “Today in the world, I don’t think we have a grasp on how human beings can be so amazing, how we have the ability to create a society that could utilize all of our potential.”

‘He’s beautiful,’ I say to myself marveling at his optimism.

“In my culture we believe that there is something beyond this plane, and that the will and spirit of humanity are indomitable, and that goodness, the true spiritual nature of humanity, will prevail. It is inevitable.

“The truth is, out of suppression grows something precious…that is the potential of America,” he says.

I conclude the interview, swallow the last of the warm 16-ounce Bud, and turn toward my parked car. Half way across the field, I turn back to look.

Losel gazes again toward the stars, and I think to myself, “I know what I know, but it’s good to know there are still true believers. Maybe we have a chance after all.”